Castro Does Not Make May Day Appearance

Today was May Day around the world. In Cuba, hundreds of thousands gathered for Workers Day parades and speeches. But despite widespread speculation that ruler Fidel Castro would appear, he was a no-show. Castro hasn't been seen publicly since having surgery last summer.

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From NPR News this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Cuba marked May Day with its customary huge parade and speeches by dignitaries. Hundreds of thousands of people marched to Revolution Square in Havana. Despite speculation that Fidel Castro would make his first public appearance in nine months, he was a no show. Castro handed power to his brother Raul after undergoing surgery last summer, and no one outside his inner circle knows the current state of his health.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navaro is in Havana.

Unidentified Man: Raul Castro (unintelligible).

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARO: Through applause, Raul Castro arrived at the monument of the revolution. Wearing green army fatigues, Fidel's younger brother was again the public face of this island, presiding, this time, over May Day celebrations that are a big deal at socialist Cuba. This is only the third time since Fidel became leader of this country that he's missed a traditional Worker's Day parade. And so, gone this year were the hours long speeches. Instead there were brief opening remarks made by the head of the May Workers Union, Salvador Valdez.

Mr. SALVADOR VALDEZ (Secretary General, Cuba's Worker's Union): Viva Fidel.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Viva.

Mr. VALDEZ: Viva Raul.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Viva.

Mr. VALDEZ: Viva (unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Viva.

Mr. VALDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARO: Raul stayed silent through out the event - waving at the hundreds of thousands who followed pass carrying flags and placards - some wearing bright red shirts. There had been speculation that Fidel would appear today. He's been seen looking robust in recent pictures. And he's written several editorials in the official press - the latest one published today.

(Soundbite of music)

GARCIA-NAVARO: The theme of this year's event was, as usual, political and aimed at the United States. Fueled by the case of Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant who's been linked to terrorist act in the island including the bombing of a Cuban airliner in the '70s. The US Government has placed hi under house arrest pending an immigration trial. Cuba wants him extradited or trialed in the U.S. for terrorism.

There were also international guests from New York, Nicaragua and Europe - who sympathized with the Cuban revolution - in attendance. Nelson Lorson came with the Canadian Workers delegation.

Mr. NELSON LORSON: Cuba offers an alternative to some of the more consumer-issued type of society that we live in. Fidel, obviously, will not be around forever. It doesn't really make much difference. The experiment that he started and the example that he set, I think, a majority of people here want to keep it going.

GARCIA-NAVARO: Of course, that is the overhanging question. Can this Cuba continue without Fidel? So far, the transition has been smooth, but Fidel is still alive. There's a lot of uncertainty here despite the fact that the Castro brothers seem to have a firm grip on power. At today's event, in front of the cameras, everyone NPR spoke to had nothing but praise for Raul and Fidel. While Cubans are not forced to attend events like this, they can be penalized if they don't. This is a society that's tightly controlled by the communist party and it organs. Still, one didn't have to go very far to get a different view.

A young man who drives a bicycle taxi told me that he's unhappy with the way things have gone for the past months under Raul. Instead of liberalization, he says, the security services have been cracking down. He says he hopes that Fidel comes back saying that he's a one of a kind leader whose shoes cannot be filled by his brother. Cuba does seem to be in a state of suspended animation. Like seemingly everyone else here, he says, he's waiting to se what happens next.

Lourdes Garcia-Navaro NPR News, Havana.

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